#TRAVEL – SOUTH KOREA: THE DMZ

The North Korean way of life is perceived negatively throughout most of the western world, but many of us are equally fascinated by it. North Korea is located north of South Korea (SHOCK); the two countries have been separated since the 1950’s, and now a 150 mile long & 2 1/2 mile wide barrier runs between them. This barrier is known as the DMZ or the Demilitarized Zone.

11174848_10155528688230360_8600668964378161737_n

Anybody visiting or living in South Korea (it’s highly unlikely you’ll see many South Koreans there though) can visit the DMZ as part of a tour. The majority of the tours depart from Seoul and most companies offer both morning and afternoon options.

When I visited in 2015, I used a company called VIP Tours. They were very helpful and provided a great service. I’d recommend them!

You can check them out here VIP TRAVEL

VIP Tours and most other DMZ Tour operators offer several different options, two of the most popular being:

1) DMZ TOUR

The cheapest and most common option allows you to visit several interesting places –

The Bridge of Freedom – A park full of statues and monuments, built to console the families of both the North and South Korean people.

Dora Observatory – From here you can look into North Korea. On a clear day, it’s very impressive.

11150975_10155528688455360_8453683361008358444_n

Dorasan Station – A brand new railway station built to connect South Korea and North Korea. However, in 2008 the North Korean government stopped the service accusing South Korean government of a confrontational policy. So now it stands empty.

DMZ Theater & Exhibition Hall – Full of artifacts and information on the Korean war and the DMZ itself.

11160004_10155528688730360_8232409435964058954_n

The Third Infiltration Tunnel – My favourite part of the tour! In 1978 a tunnel was uncovered. The tunnel was built by North Koreans trying to pass under the border. The tour allows you to travel deep underground and see for yourself.

11156255_10155528688130360_6873141508869483745_n

2) DMZ & JSA TOUR

The second option allows you to visit all of the above AND the JSA or the Joint Security Area. The JSA is where North and South Koreans discuss diplomatic engagements and negotiate.  This option does cost a bit more and require a but more time, but a good experience for those who are interested.

11141146_10155528688330360_2077129513383870217_n

If you are interested in the Korean war and/or are curious about mysterious North Korea, or maybe you just have some time to kill in Seoul, I’d definitely recommend checking this tour out!

If you’re going to South Korea, make sure you take your guide to ensure you don’t miss anything –

#TRAVEL – Indonesia: Peace in Ubud

I’ve never read the book Eat, Pray, Love, nor have I watched the movie. But, nonetheless, I heard Ubud, Bali was an interesting place to visit for reasons other than “It’s where that really good book/ film is set”.

I was right.

Ubud is located about an hour north of Bali’s main airport and is easily accessed by bus, van, car, and bike. If you are visiting after spending a few days in Kuta, the tranquil and relaxing atmosphere will be a welcome breath of fresh air. Many visitors go there to practice yoga, meditation and detox. Ubud boasts many health-orientated stores and calming areas, making it the perfect place to unwind and get back in touch with yourself.

That said, despite being a peaceful and chilled setting, there are actually quite a few things to do:

Monkey Forest

The most popular tourist attraction in Ubud is the monkey forest. For a small price, you can enter a reasonably large area of temples, trees and wilderness to observe wild macaque monkeys run around and interact with each other and their paying visitors (hold onto your camera with a strong grip).

Rice Fields

Turn left, turn right, go north, go south…Ubud has no shortage of rice paddies! I would definitely recommend renting a scooter and driving out of the town center to check out some of these beauties. They are oddly fascinating and undeniably beautiful.

Pools

Just because you’re away from the coast, don’t think that you’re going to miss out on some great waters (you are in Bali after all). The majority of hotels and homestays in Ubud boast spectacular swimming pools, many with infinity pools looking out into stunning green scenery.

u4

The Streets

Ubud’s streets are full of quirky cafes, homestays and old buildings. Hours can be spent walking around marveling at the various types of architecture and having a browse at what interesting products are for sale.

Chill Nights

The nightlife in Ubud is a world apart from Kuta. I love to party, but visiting Ubud allowed me to experience a more relaxed and cultural vibe. Whether you see a puppet show, walk the beautiful streets or have a cold beer at the jazz bar, you’ll always be wearing a smile across your face.

u5

If you’re in Bali, don’t skip over Ubud.

.. and don’t forget your guide!

#TRAVEL – Indonesia: Glli F**king T

Sandwiched between Bali and Lombok; Gili Trawangan is one of three gorgeous Indonesian islands that you have to visit.

1981808_10154854472870360_766777012561727487_n


Known to many as ‘Gili T’, it is becoming increasingly more popular to travellers, and I can see why.

Like most backpackers that visit, I stayed a lot longer than I had initially intended. Gili T steals your heart and soul. I’m not being cheesy, it really does! An unstable power grid and a road system that consists of no motor vehicles makes Gili T quite unique allows for a sense of escapism.

10306384_10154871757395360_7315463810856240360_n

The F**king Food

Gili T has more than a handful of restaurants. However, the local market is the real show-stealer for flavorful dishes. Every evening a local market sells a wide selection of Indonesian food at cheap prices.

Eat there!

The F**king Ocean

My favourite thing about Gili T is the ocean. Undeniably beautiful to look it, what lies beneath is even better. Swimming between the sparkling surface and the heavily occupied coral foundation are Green Sea and Loggerhead turtles. I don’t know how many hours I spent snorkeling in the ocean of Gili T, but it wasn’t enough. I don’t think there is such a thing as enough.

1610824_10154854472730360_3209038237221495743_n

The F**cking Party

Naturally, Gili T is full of people looking to have a good time. There is an area (near the food market I mentioned before) that has several bars that play good music and offer cheap drinks. Gili T even has its own full moon party every month.

1482981_10154854473345360_6337603166887801961_n

The F**king Sunset

Ombak sunset viewpoint is located on the lesser occupied side of the island. The best seat in the house is definitely the swing that is positioned a few metres out into the ocean. I spent the majority of my evenings on this side of the island taking in the natural masterpiece.

250283_10154871755925360_5321189021618216542_n

The F**king Journey

In comparison to other transportation methods in and around Bali, the “speed boat” (you’ll have to experience it to understand the need for sarcastic quotation marks) to Gili T is not very cheap, but it is worth the effort, there is no excuse! GO!

10417650_10154860041125360_6992849926924546204_n

Don’t forget your Bali Travel Guide:

#TRAVEL – JAPAN: 3 Attractions of Arashiyama

Kyoto is well known in Japan for being an historical and picturesque part of the country, as many travel articles you read to encourage you to visit.

#TRAVEL - JAPAN: 3 Attractions of Arashiyama


Arashiyama is located in western Kyoto, and it is everything you want from Japan: it’s breathtakingly beautiful and the tranquility is gladly welcomed if you have just spent a few days in bustling Tokyo, or Osaka

a9

嵐山モンキーパーク


Probably the main attraction of Arashiyama is Iwatayama Monkey Park, which is located on Mt. Arashiyama. The climb to the park itself isn’t the easiest, especially when the powerful Japanese summer heat is suffocating you, but the view and the experience at the top are worth the slog. Random electric fans are strategically placed along the inclining pathway to provide some relief—just don’t forget to take water.
The park itself is a quirky little place, inhabited by hundreds of macaque monkeys who are on a mission to eat. Snacks for the monkeys can be purchased from an attendant, but feeding them is only allowed through a metal fence.
Even if adorable little monkeys aren’t your thing, then the gorgeous scenery and the panoramic view is still worth the mini-hike!

右京区嵐山


The second biggest attraction in Arashiyama is the bamboo forest. A google search will bring up unspoiled images of gorgeous greenery and thousands of shooting stalks—unfortunately, that isn’t the reality. Like most tourist attractions, I personally found the bamboo forest overrun with people and I didn’t find the whole experience that interesting. But, as I was already in the area, I don’t regret checking it out.

a2

保津川下り


Whilst strolling around Arashiyama it is impossible not to notice the winding banks of the Hozugawa Kudari river. A trip down the river by boat looks quite appealing, but expensive. Due to the fact I am a poor backpacker, I didn’t splash the cash, however, If I returned I would make sure I had enough money to experience the entrancing opportunity. I did find walking along the river banks enjoyable and relaxing!


I think it is worth noting that aside from these 3 main attractions, Arashiyama is crammed with local shops, restaurants and coffee shops, that are worth checking out!

a10


Don’t forget your TRAVEL GUIDE –

Don’t teach in Thailand if…

Don’t teach in Thailand if…

Every year hundreds of people fly to the “Land of Smiles” to teach English. The list of benefits this choice offers is so large that instead of focusing on them, I have compiled a list of reasons it may not be the best option for everyone. You may want to reconsider if…

You Want to Make A Lot of Money

If you’re reading this, then you probably already know the teaching salary in Thailand isn’t the best. In comparison to the cost of living, you can live very well—but when it comes to making those international bank transfers every month, it can be a bit painful. That said, jobs at international schools tend to offer more money and there is no shortage of private tutoring opportunities throughout the country. Many teachers, myself included, survive from their tutoring money and transfer their salaries home each month. You can save, but it definitely takes commitment.

You Want to Party 24/7

The Full Moon Party, Khaosan Road – YES, Thailand is a fun place to party. Alcohol is cheap and there is never a shortage of events to attend. However, if this is your primary reason for visiting Thailand, I think backpacking or a holiday would be a better option. Don’t get me wrong, over the course of my 18 months there I had an endless amount of raging weekends all over the country, but the focus during the week should be the job.

You Aren’t Willing to Embrace a New Culture

This is similar to the previous. Many people assume life in Thailand is like the travel brochures and the backpacking blogs. Of course, it can be, but the reality is that the majority of schools are positioned away from the ‘tourist hot spots’ of the country and in my opinion allow for a more authentic cultural experience. I think it’s important to note that in many locations you could be the only English speaker for miles and find it impossible to buy those branded goods you love so much back home. Personally, I see this one as a positive, a chance to challenge myself and grow—but many are not prepared for the cultural shift and start to feel isolated.

You Don’t Like Kids/Want to Teach

The heading of this may make you think ‘OBVIOUSLY DUR’ but unfortunately there are a few too many teachers in Thailand who not only hate teaching but dislike children. I understand a lot of people choose to teach in Thailand to see the country or for a gap year etc., but I think a little interest in teaching and not a dislike of the age group you’re going to teach should be a minimal requirement. You’re going to be in the classroom the majority of the week—taking a job you don’t care about just so you can party and see the sites will only make the kids miserable and the workweek seem like a chore. Care about what you do.

You Don’t Like Spicy Food

Ok, this one is a bit of a joke. Of course, you don’t need to like spicy food to teach in Thailand, but be warned – it’s everywhere. The words ‘mai pet’ (Thai for not spicy) can save your life!

This list is basically a compilation of the various complaints I would hear from fellow teachers around the country. Maybe if people knew what they were getting themselves in for before going, there would be a lot less critical and negative stuff written about teaching in Thailand online. Do your research, and try to find a place that is not only suited to your interests and strengths, but also consider your weaknesses.

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong


Hong Kong is one of the most famous places in the world. In February 2016, I was lucky enough to visit for a few days, and experience some of what ‘Asia’s World City’ had to offer.

Here is a list of my TOP 5 Things to do in Hong Kong –

The Peak

The Hong Kong Peak is normally described as “Hong Kong’s #1 Thing To Do”. I can see why. The Peak provides visitors with a panoramic viewing point looking down at Hong Kong City and the ocean. I don’t think I’ve drunk a coffee with a view like it before!
The best way to get to The Peak is by using the infamous ‘tram’ service. At some points during the journey, you will fear for your life – I am not exaggerating when I say that the tram will travel almost vertically, but just hold on tight & you’ll be fine!

The Cable Car & The Tian Tan Buddha

The cable car ride to the top of the mountains is optional, but really, unless you are down to your last dollar or have an extreme fear of heights – there is no option. This was my favorite part of my trip to Hong Kong and I would recommend anyone visiting to do it. The price is HK$130 for standard & HK$180 glass bottom (roughly $16/$23 USD).
The cable car to the Tian Tan Buddha is a steady, but fantastic experience. The higher you get, the more of the unusual landscape of ocean, buildings, and mountains will be revealed.
Soon enough, the outline of a giant Buddha will begin appearing and the buildings in the background will fade away.
At the Tian Tan Buddha itself, you can explore the immediate area of historical monuments, temples, and stores… just be careful of the cows. You could also choose to walk the 268 steps up to the Buddha itself.
The photos really speak for themselves…

Markets

I’m not a “shopper”, but damn, the street markets in Hong Kong made me want to buy a lot of shit I didn’t need. “Temple Street” and “Ladies Market” (not just for ladies) are just two of the night market areas in Hong Kong that boast everything from food to clothes to even wild stock.
It is easy to spend hours meandering around the bright colorful stalls, browsing the wide (and I mean wide) variety of products on sale. The hunger-creating smells of nearby street food and restaurants are the only thing strong enough to entice you away.

hk 6.jpg

Not just a city

The most surprising element of Hong Kong to me was it’s natural beauty. It really is more than just a city. Hong Kong has no shortage of mountains, islands, and beaches. Most of these can be accessed by public transport for little cost. If you’re in Hong Kong for more than a couple of days, I’d highly recommend venturing out of the city and seeing some of this spectacular terrain. It’s worth mentioning that 2 of the most popular islands to visit in HK are Lantau and Lamma.

Promenade

The most stereotypical selfie taken in Hong Kong is taken at the promenade. The promenade is a spectacular area at both night and day. I can see why many joggers choose to run along the waterfront and I can see why tourists flock to get a photo of the stunning electronic landscape across the water. It’s completely free, so it’s worth walking along it if you get the chance!

I hope this gave you some ideas of what to do in Hong Kong or provided you with some nice flashbacks of your time there. Is there anything you think should have made my list?


Feel free to comment below!

If you’re going to Hong Kong, buy your travel guide below. It has everything you need and more!

26 Reasons to Teach in South Korea

South Korea is an exciting country, and teaching there can be one of the best decisions you ever make.

Here are 26 reasons why –

1 – Live Abroad

Living abroad has limitless benefits on both yourself and your CV.

2 – Teaching Experience

Whether you want to become a teacher in the future or whether you’re deciding if teaching would be right for you. What a excellent way to get some experience!

3 – Save Money

In comparison to the cost of living, the salary in Korea is quite high. It isn’t difficult to live well and send home around $1000 a month.

4 – Learn a language

Who doesn’t want to learn a new language? Spoken Korean might take some time and effort to master, but the alphabet system; Hangul is very easy!

5 – Make friends for life

This is cheesy but true. Whether you live, work or party with your friends, you’ll create a unique bond that’ll last for life.

6 – Technology

Technology in Korea is super advanced. The WiFi is one of the fastest in the world.

7 – Dating

Don’t come to teach English in Korea for this reason alone, but the different dating cultures can be quite fun to experience.

8 – Transportation

Korea’s transportation system is nothing short of brilliant. It’s effective and very cheap.

9 – Develop your teaching skills

Whether you teach in a public or private school, it’s sure to open your mind to different teaching methods and help you develop your teaching skills.

10 – Islands

Korea isn’t Thailand, but it does possess numerous stunning islands! Jeju, Geoje and Namhae to name a few.

11 – Mountains

One of my favorite things about Korea are the mountains. They are plentiful and dramatic. Seoraksan, Bukhansan and Taebaeksan are among some of the best.

12 – Beaches

It may surprise you, but South Korea isn’t short of beautiful sands.

13 – Food

I could write a post alone on this! One of the best things about living in South Korea is having countless delicious food easily at your fingertips.

14 – K Pop

I’m not going to pretend to know what I’m talking about here, but I heard it’s huge!

15 – Jimjilbang (찜질방)

Don’t be shy, get naked in a Jimjilbang and give it a try!

16 – Noraebang (노래방)

I’ve never been much of a singer, but these private Karaoke rooms can be barrels of fun.

17 – Seoul

Seoul is a vast concrete jungle surrounded by mountains. It has a variety of different areas that suit all types of people. The city also boasts a pretty impressive subway system that will get you to anywhere you need to go!

18 – Palaces

Korea may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of palaces & pagodas, but they have some good’uns!

19 – Culture

Experiencing a new culture should always make your list when deciding to live abroad.

20 – Paid accommodation

All teaching jobs in Korea provide free accommodation.

21 – Paid flights

Most teaching jobs in Korea pay for at least a flight to the country. Many pay for a round trip.

22 -Travel Around South Korea

On your weekend or during vacation, travel around South Korea, there are many things to see and do!

23 – Travel Outside of Korea

Geographically, South Korea is positioned in a fantastic location. Take advantage of this and travel to nearby countries in your spare time. China and Japan are both only one hour away!

24 – North Korea

Many people view this as a reason not to go, but on the contrary, go visit the DMZ and learn about the sad, but fascinating, North and South divide.

25 – Safety

South Korea is one of the safest countries in the world.

26 – Nightlife

Drinking culture is massive in Korea. After a hard weeks work, grab some soju, unwind with your friends and hit some of the numerous party spots. In Seoul; Gangnam, Hongdae and Itaewon are 3 of the top locations.

I hope you enjoyed my list.  If there is anything you think I’ve missed,  please comment let me know below!

I tried (and failed) to learn Korean. However, I do recommend this book. Maybe you’ll do better than I did?

Teaching in Thailand vs. Teaching in Japan

Teaching in Thailand vs. Japan

by Rachael Hornsby

Having started my TEFL adventures in Thailand, I have now spent a year teaching there, and another 6 months teaching in Japan (with a year back in the UK in between). If you might be considering either of these countries to teach English in, or are deciding between East and South East Asia in general, here’s my brief take on how these countries have compared so far for me. Enjoy!

The dosh

It’s of course not all about the money, but, in terms of bare numbers, in Thailand my teaching wage was 30,000 baht per month (around £ 700), whereas in Japan I earn 250,000 yen (~£2000). In both cases it is pretty much the standard amount for an inexperienced teacher.

My Thai wage obviously wasn’t a lot in UK terms, but the cost of living is so low in Thailand that it’s PLENTY to live on. My rent was about £80 (although my friends’ were cheaper!), and I could eat out every night for as little as 25 baht for a Pad Thai (about 50p!). Thailand and S.E. Asia as a whole is SO cheap that my Thai wage managed to take me on tonnes of adventures, such as tripping around Vietnam in my school holidays, and numerous weekends around Thailand, to Chiang Mai, Bangkok etc.

Living expenses obviously all cost so much more in Japan. My rent is 45,000 yen per month (over £ 350), (although I know in big cities like Tokyo it can be MUCH higher), and bills and food add much more on to that. Again, I seem to have spent a lot of spare cash so far in Japan travelling, and unfortunately just exploring mainland Japan can be really pricey- a bullet train to Tokyo from my island of Kyushu is about £170 (as opposed to a train I took to Laos from Southern Thailand for £15!).

In short, the main difference is, if you are strict with your money, and don’t go off travelling every spare minute (it’s just so tempting!!), your savings in Japan will stretch much further if you take them elsewhere, especially to other economically rich countries, like if you wanted to pay off debts in the UK (with the pound plunging, at this rate you could go home with a small fortune!). My friends have also taken extra tutoring jobs on the side if they really wanted to fill up their wallet, although this might not be allowed in your contract. And if you’re really looking for the big bucks, jobs where the company actually pay for your flights or accommodation, like ones in South Korea, might be an even better bet.

(*WRITTEN OCTOBER 2016! The pound is changing so much these days, so god knows how long these currency conversions will be accurate. A couple of days!?*)

Culture

If you’re not hoping for a culture shock, then you’re in the wrong game! There are obviously hundreds of wonderful/fascinating/infuriating sides of Thai and Japanese culture, but here’s a few:

Although there are reasons not to get on the wrong side of Thailand (in a rare case some people I knew had a pretty rough time being deported…), the country generally really does live up to its reputation as the “land of smiles”. From the random people I’d find to help me when my moped got a flat tire (more than once!), to the chatty monks on the train (let them talk to you first, don’t just go barging up to one!), it’s a great place for restoring faith in humanity. It’s also VERY laid back. The famously slow pace of pretty much anything there can drive many people absolutely up the wall- a train that should take 2 hours, ends up taking 5 hours, etc.-, but you will start to adopt the local “mai pen rai”, care-free attitude, and pretty much all of my friends left Thailand a less uptight person than when they arrived (who couldn’t do with giving themselves that gift?).

Japan is in some ways the opposite of Thailand’s laid back attitude. From the notoriously prompt trains, to the meticulous dividing of household recycling, everything is fantastically organised and reliable. I’m constantly amazed at how efficient things are and by the different things Japan has come up with to get stuff done! As in Thailand, people in Japan are exceptionally polite and friendly, and the hospitality in Japan is second to none, to the extent that I admittedly found myself feeling a bit aggrieved without it in on a recent trip to Hong Kong, making me appreciate Japan even more. The level of politeness did at first it come off as a bit oppressive (train carriages are often silent, etc.), making it seem hard to ‘break in’ or really socialise, but of course with a little more patience you get to meet more people, and make amazing new friends. I think you could say Japan is more like the UK in that way!

Picture1.png

“mai pen rai” life on Koh Samet vs. ingenious conveyor belt sushi

The job



As far as the job goes, each school can differ widely depending on the age you’re teaching, whether it’s private or government, etc. etc., but there are a few general trends, which seem to be mainly extensions of Thailand’s “mai pen rai” culture vs. the super efficient Japan.

Although I had textbooks for some of my classes at my Thai school, this wasn’t that common, and it tends to be a “do it yourself” kind of attitude to the curriculum/ teaching in general. This can obviously be a bit scary if it’s your first time teaching, and can be frustrating if you feel like you’re not getting the help or direction you’d like, but it’s also great as it gives you freedom in what you want to teach, allows you to experiment with your teaching style, and is a great challenge to get you tuck into the job. You also pretty much never know what’s going on- most weeks I’d turn up to work with all my lessons planned, only to find out at least 1 was cancelled for some random reason I didn’t know of, like the day we found ourselves ushered onto a school bus first thing, with kids all prepared wearing traditional outfits, and we spent the morning sitting in front of monks in a temple listening to them chant!

Japan, on the other hand, is a lot more organised in its approach. In my job teaching at a private kindergarten, I have tonnes more support, like a curriculum, weekly meetings, many of my lessons already planned for me etc. In comparison to Thailand, my job feels so much more coherent, although I’ve heard that other jobs for the larger companies can be even more structured. In a way this means you can’t use as much creativity in your teaching, and aren’t being pushed quite as hard. And I do sometimes miss the manic spontaneity of Thailand (in my first month here, I was actually thrown into presenting an assembly without notice, and secretly loved it!). I also have to work evenings this time, like many other language schools, but I do have a lot more free time in the day that I don’t have to spend planning lessons, and generally feel a lot less ‘at sea’.

picture2

Thai assembly 

Things to see and do



You obviously can’t spend all your time gallivanting around if you have a teaching job, but you can pack plenty of sightseeing into your free weekends and holidays if you fancy (and why ever not?!). In Thailand you’ll find more elephants, street markets, and idyllic beaches, and it can be more of a wild party scene if you land a job near a tourist area (I’ve had more ‘buckets’ of cocktails than I’d care to remember…). Japan has more impressive mountains and hiking  (being made up of volcanic islands), there are hot spring baths and karaoke bars everywhere, and you can go skiing in winter (which I’m 99% sure you can’t do in Thailand!). It also has its share of good nightlife (especially in the big cities), and even has gorgeous beaches and great scuba diving spots down in balmy Okinawa. Basically, Japan and Thailand are both popular tourist destinations for good reason- they both have beautiful scenery, endless temples, fascinating festivals etc. etc. So, unless there’s something you’re absolutely itching to do, like climb Mount Fuji or rave at a full moon party, you’ll find plenty of weird and wonderful ways to keep you occupied in both!

Picture3.png

Beach in Koh Chang vs.  Hike in Nagasaki

Getting down and dirty

Thailand is by no means a third world country, but Japan is miles ahead of it when it comes to things like infrastructure and sanitation, and feels even more developed than the UK in some ways. Japan is probably the cleanest place I’ve ever been, and they have technology for everything, from heated toilet seats to shoe vending machines (probably the name for it!) at the bowling alley. Thailand, on the other hand, can take a little getting used to for a Westerner. Rather than having heated toilets, we had to flush the loo using a bucket in our Thai school, and if you’re doing things on the cheap (which you might as well!), then you’ll find yourself, for example, sitting on plastic chairs at a food stall in street, with stray dogs wandering around you whilst you eat your dinner. There are also more critters around in Thailand- I often found cute baby geckos living in my shoes, I was never without at least 1 mosquito bite (although I am especially attractive to the buggers!), and my town happened to be overrun with mafia-like monkeys.

The things in Thailand that seem so alien at first really don’t take long to feel normal, and to be honest I’m grateful for the experience of living with a tiny bit less luxury, for helping me appreciate how lucky we are at home, and showing me what I can actually live without. So if you want this type of challenge, I’d have to recommend Thailand, but if you want a more easy transition (dealing with a brand new Asian culture can be enough in itself!), then go for Japan. I myself am glad I did both in the order that I have, since I can appreciate the wonders of Japan even more!

Picture4.png

Critter friends in Thailand vs. Super sleek Shibuya 

The language

Both Thai and Japanese are a world away from English, and I can’t profess to be much of an expert at either, but here goes. The Thai language has 1 ‘alphabet’ (or set of characters,) and uses lots of different tones. These can be seriously hard to pick up (“ma” can have a whole host of meanings depending on your tone), but luckily Thais often understand what a farang (foreigner) is getting at without them. They often drop unnecessary words from sentences (as in Japan!), so I wasn’t too paranoid about having bad grammar either. The little Thai I learnt came in very handy and was really appreciated, especially in tourist spots (I was all but given applause just ordering pineapple in Krabi!). To be honest you can get by with very little Thai if you wish, and it’s surprising how many Thais speak some English anyway, even in remote parts of the country.

Japanese seems harder to me. This may just be because I’ve put more effort into learning it, and so have realised what a mountain it is to really learn a language. Thailand’s “alphabet”, once learnt, can get you reading any Thai for good (I’ve been told!). Japan, however, has 3 sets of characters, and I can read the 2 basic ones (very handy for things like Western food menus), but the 3rd set of Chinese characters feels like it may take me an age to tackle (I’m sure Japanese people can’t even read them all!), and I still can’t read that much when I’m out and about. Unlike Thai, Japanese isn’t tonal, so once you’ve learnt words or phrases, it’s pretty easy to catch them and pronounce them, but Japan also seem to have many more ways of saying one thing, depending on different situations or who you’re speaking to. This can make it more daunting when trying to use it yourself, or frustrating when you don’t understand something you thought you knew! Basic English also seems less widespread here, so there are certain things I’ve simply had to drag a Japanese speaker along to help me do, like buying a phone contract, but you manage!

I’ve been frustrated at times by my lack of skill at both languages, but really learning either can take years, and many TEFL teachers get by fine speaking very little, if any. It will of course enhance your experience whatever amount you manage to learn, so you might as well give it a bash, and if you really want to get the hang of it, just get yourself a local boy/girlfriend (seems to work every time!)

Picture5.png

Japanese vs. Thai (Jibberish vs. nonsense??) 

“Konichiwa, Japan!” or “Sawadee Ka, Thailand!”??

The beauty of a TEFL job is you get to spend months in a country that many people only spend a fortnight visiting on holiday, which teaches you so many beautiful/ ridiculous things about a place, and so there could be a billion more ways I could use to compare these two amazing countries (I could write a whole post on types of beer! Actually I might do that…). But in super brief, Thailand and Japan are like riding a Tuk Tuk vs. taking the bullet train. One is a bit more of a slow, bumpy ride, and the other is more sleek and a bit more predictable, but they are both brand new experiences, that can be equally thrilling (you’d be surprised how fast a Tuk tuk can go!), and will take you to places to never expected! Both countries are amazing, so if there’s anything at all drawing you to one or the other, just pick that one and GO! You won’t regret it.

Picture6.png

Tuk tuk or bullet train?

#TRAVEL Cambodia: The Killing Fields

Disclaimer: In case the title didn’t tip you off, this article is going to be a real bummer.

choeung_ek__cambodia_by_ncdrifts-d96k1hj

One of the most amazing things about traveling is how much you learn along the way—about people, about culture, and about the world itself. Reading about something in a book is a far cry from seeing the remnants of history with your own eyes, and as we explore we uncover parts of the past that are often fascinating, sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally downright horrifying.

However, knowing the misdeeds of the past teaches us what to avoid in the future and so there is no history that should be forgotten. No place is this more true than in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

A Bit of History

The Killing Fields are a dark vestige of the Khmer Rouge Regime, which took power in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 – 1979. During that time, nearly 3 million people were executed in a country of only 8 million total. The cities were emptied and those who weren’t arrested were sent to agricultural projects as the government sought to both “purify” the population and bring the country back to a simpler time. Much of this was accomplished through the use of crude prisons and mass graves, which still exist today as a haunting reminder.

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek was originally an orchard that was turned into arguably the most notorious extermination camp in Cambodia, containing thousands upon thousands of bodies. Located outside Phnom Penh, there is an entrance fee of $6 and includes an audio tour which guides you through the site providing the grim details of the events that took place—many patrons are moved to tears while listening as they solemnly walk the grounds.

dscf0664

You’re continually reminded to watch your step, as teeth and bone fragments still regularly make their way to the surface. Upon arrival your eye is immediately drawn to the memorial stupa, a Buddhist monument with towering windows displaying more than 5,000 human skulls that have been recovered from the site.

dscf0667_fotor2

Those carrying out the executions were not well-equipped with weapons or ammunition, so executions were to be done quickly and cheaply often through barbaric means. For this reason, you will immediately notice how many of the skulls on display are cracked or smashed in.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of the site is known as the “Children’s Tree,” against which the youngest victims were beaten. Today the tree continues to grow and is covered in bracelets and ribbons visitors have left in memoriam to those lost.

Tuol Sleng

Within the city limits sits the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The classrooms were divided into crude, tiny cells; the windows were barred and the grounds surrounded by electric fences & barbed wire. Inmates here were each photographed and ordered to provide the details of their life, only to be tortured into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. Wall upon wall of prisoner photos line parts of the museum, with gaunt faces of men, women, and children staring back at you. This prison was a true house of horrors, the site of everything from waterboarding to medical experimentation. Many of those not executed at the prison itself were eventually marched 15 kilometers to Choeung Ek, where they ultimately met their demise.

It’s baffling to think something so horrific had taken place in such recent history, but a truly eye-opening experience for those visiting Cambodia.

-Ashley

If you’re going to Cambodia, don’t forget your Lonely Planet travel guide –

Troubles Abroad: Life Without Peanut Butter

Ants on a Log. Fluffernutters. Classic PB&J. And who didn’t make a pinecone-peanut butter bird feeder as a kid?

We put it on bananas, slather it on french toast and of course eat it straight off the spoon.

No matter what country I’m headed to, you can be certain I’m tossing a couple jars of skippy in my rucksack. Whether it’s for a familiar snack, a quick spoonful of energy, or to tide me over til I figure out the grocery situation, peanut butter exists for me in the gray area between “luxury” and “necessity” when backpacking.

It’s one of those things you don’t realize how much you miss until you wake up with a craving for a nice PB&J. All of the sudden the idea of collecting all THREE ingredients at the same time seems an unbeatable obstacle. Decent peanut butter, fresh sandwich bread, and a jar of grape jelly just never seem to exist in the same place at the same time once you cross the ocean. If a simple sandwich is such a challenge, you can forget about chocolate-peanut butter ice-cream in the summer heat or that big bag of Reese’s cups come Halloween.

Getting peanut butter while living abroad can be a challenge—you can try to make that jar from home last as long as possible, but soon you’re scraping the bottom and praying someone will pay international shipping on a care package full of Jif. Still, sometimes it’s not as far away as you think, so long as you know where to look.

Below is a bite-sized guide to finding Peanut Butter abroad, compiled from both my own PB-hunting adventures and those of my fellow expats:

North America:

Canada & United States: In US & Canadian supermarkets it’s hard to miss—peanut butter is spotted taking up a good chunk of the aisle, with various brands, sizes, and flavors.

Mexico: While not as popular as in the rest of North America, PB is still fairly easy to find in Mexico, especially in big-box stores like Walmart, where Peter Pan and Great Value can be found at a decent price.

Asia:

China: IF a store has it, it’s often found in the sauce aisle near the mayonnaise. Since neither mayo nor PB are popular, they can be hard to spot—and smaller stores don’t care it at all. It’s hard to find western brands, but Chinese peanut butter is decent (if a bit dry).

Indonesia: This one’s tough, guys—despite boasting world-famous peanut sauces and peanut soups, I’ve yet to actually locate a jar of PB in Indonesia. If they’re out there, they’re hard to find.

Japan: Right where it should be, near the breads and jellies. You can even get the giant tubs at Costco in Japan!

Korea: Often found near the bread in the bakery section, surrounded by nutella & banana spreads. Korean peanut butter is actually pretty good and comes in both crunchy and creamy.

Laos: While difficult to find in the store, PB is a surprisingly common topping for roti pancakes (one of the best street desserts you’ll find in SE Asia). You’re best bet at finding it in the stores is near the nutella or by the actual peanuts.

Malaysia: Finally, another country that appreciates PB! Malaysia is one of few SE Asian countries that actually offers variety, often located near the sauces and seasonings.

Philippines: Boasting world-famous peanut spreads that rival American brands, the Philippines are a Peanut-Butter Oasis. Thinner than what North Americans are accustomed to, Filipino PB is a bit grainy and just as sweet.

Thailand: Perhaps one of the easiest countries to find PB in, Thai stores carry multiple US brands including Jif and Skippy, conveniently found near the Jams & Jellies.

Vietnam: Vietnam carries store-brand and local peanut butters which will often be found near the soups & seasonings, and while delicious they are often quite oily and runny.

Central & South America:

Argentina: So far, no one I know who has travelled through Argentina has been able to locate PB.

Brazil: Similar to Argentina, PB seems to be a near-impossible find.

Chile: Walmarts in Chile have Great Value (store) brand PB.

Costa Rica: Peanut Butter is often found in the “imported foods” section of the grocery, with many familiar brands.

Peru: While there are rumors that some expats have been lucky enough to find a jar of Peter Pan, American-style peanut butter is almost non-existent in Peru, and unfortunately I’ve never heard the local style described in a manner even close to edible. Your best bet is to look near the condiments.

It’s always exciting delving into foreign cuisine, but sometimes you just need those familiar tastes of home.

-Ashley